Hakam notes with concern the prime minister’s decision to convene a mere one-day sitting on 18 May 2020.
We also understand that there will not be room for debates on 18 May 2020 as the schedule only accommodates the royal address and the first reading of several government bills.
The Constitution requires Parliament to be summoned from time to time and in any event within six months of the last sitting. This strikes a balance between allowing the government to do things, and holding them to account – so that the people’s representatives can scrutinise government actions, ask questions, propose alternatives and force them to reveal information and justify their actions. This will inspire public confidence in any measures taken by the government.
Summoning Parliament just to allow for its opening by the King without more, hence subverts this critical parliamentary role. It fulfils the letter but not the substance of the constitutional requirement. Its validity is clearly questionable.
More importantly, the government has been issuing edicts and taking measures. Some of these even intrude into private contracts entered into between parties. All such measures must be grounded in laws enacted by Parliament – or else we will end up having executive rule without control. This clearly undermines the constitutional edifice of the rule of law.
The government has also announced several initiatives which involve expenditure of public money. Ultimately any such expenditure must be authorised by Parliament. This must be approved by Parliament in voting ‘supply’.
All this points to the need to convene Parliament for a sufficient period of time to allow for it to fulfil its constitutional role. A session limited to a mere opening by the King and even allowing for a few questions will be clearly inadequate. The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be used as a cover to bypass the role assigned to Parliament by the Constitution. Worse, it will establish a precedent that will undermine democracy itself.
Other governments such as in the UK, Australia and Singapore have reportedly faced no difficulty in convening parliament to transact sessions. Arrangements such as virtual parliament hearings through teleconferencing, social distancing and wearing of masks can be arranged.
Hakam therefore urges the government to take heed and provide for adequate period for the scheduled forthcoming parliamentary session.